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Report finds that sugary cereals marketed to Hispanic children more than any ethnic group

It’s a common scenario in households across the country. The television is on as background noise while mom and dad are occupied elsewhere while Junior is playing on the floor with a puzzle or blocks. Suddenly, Junior lifts his head at the glimpse of a cheery cartoon character chomping on a themed cereal. He asks mami to pick some up on the next shopping trip – and that’s exactly what sugary cereal companies are bargaining for, in a new report that shows that cereal marketing is aimed more towards Hispanic youth more than any other ethnic or racial group.

The 2012 “Cereal FACTS” report, published by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, has unearthed several startling facts regarding how Hispanic children have become the target of big brand advertising.

“There’s been a lot of attention in marketing press about the spending power of Hispanic and African-American audiences – it’s only been until recently that companies have tapped into it,” says lead author Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, an associate research scientist at Yale University. “And the bottom line is while cereal companies have made small changes in the nutritional content in their products over time, they are disproportionately aiming their advertising at the growing numbers of Hispanic children rather than non-Hispanic children.”

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity released its first “Cereal FACTS” report in 2009. Since then, companies responded by improving the overall nutritional quality for 13 of the 14 brands of cereal advertised to children. Even so, breakfast cereals remain one of the highest, yet hidden, sources of sugar available to children, with children regularly eating multiple servings of cereals that can contain as much as 20 grams of sugar per serving, says Dr. Harris.

The American Heart Association recommends that inactive to moderately active young children consume no more than 5 teaspoons, or 20 grams of added sugar per day.

“I think its great many of the cereal brands are adding whole grains and promising less sugar, but at the end of the day, these companies are deliberately targeting Latino children and their families,” says Cristina Rivera, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York. “And while children may relate to their favorite cartoon characters or favorite movies being endorsed by these cereals, parents need to learn what exactly is in those boxes to help guide their children’s dietary choices.”

Because obesity rates among Latino children far outpaces other ethnic groups, Rivera suggests that parents take extra care when selecting breakfast cereals.  She recommends that parents opt for breakfast cereals with less than seven grams of sugar and three grams of fiber, explaining that the added fiber can help kids feel full without the added sugars. Click here to check out the Yale Rudd Venter for Food Policy & Obesity’s handy nutrition ranking of more than 300 popular breakfast cereals.

“Advertising and foods that aren’t necessarily good for you are always going to be there,” says Rivera. “But Latino parents need to be aware how even the choice of a breakfast cereal can affect their children in the long-term.”

“Portion control, knowing what’s on the label and encouraging the kids to play and stay active can help reduce the risk of obesity in our community, no matter how much advertisers spend.”

Key Facts about Cereal Advertising and Latino children

  • Hispanic youth’s exposure to cereal marketing has significantly increased  from 2008 to 2011.  Spending on Spanish-language TV advertising for all cereals more than doubled (from $26 million to $65 million) and Hispanic children’s exposure to these ads tripled during the same time period. In contrast, there was a decrease in children’s exposure to cereal ads on English-language television.
  • The total number of brands that advertised on Spanish-language television jumped from just 4 in 2008 to a total of 11 in 2011.
  • In 2011, General Mills brands (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Kix and Count Chocula, among others) accounted for approximately one-half of advertising spending on Spanish-language television. The company also accounted for one-half of exposure to cereal ads among all Hispanic age groups.
  • Among Hispanic youth, preschoolers (ages 2-5 years) watched more cereal ads than any other age group across children and adolescents.  Since 2008, Hispanic preschoolers’ exposure to cereal ads increased by 120%.
  • The top five cereals most frequently advertised to children include: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Honey Nut Cheerios, Froot Loops and Reese’s Puffs. Seems like they have something in common with the top five cereals with the poorest nutritional rating:  Pebbles, Reese’s Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms and Trix.
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch devoted the highest percentage of its television advertising budget to Spanish-language ads (29%). Mini Wheats had the lowest television ad market share, with just 6% of its budget going to Spanish-language ads.
  • Hispanic youth (6-17 years) were more likely than non-Hispanic youth to visit child-targeted advertising game websites. In addition, child-targeted websites (especially General Mills sites) were more popular with Hispanic than non-Hispanic youth.
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